The grounds at the Chautauqua Institution.
For many of us, attending summer camp was more formative than our twelve years in grade school. At a tender young age — away from the comforts of home, surrounded by new faces and juggling one activity after the next — we learned the joy of independence, confronted social awkwardness and enriched our minds and bodies in non-academic settings. Then, upon returning home, we immersed ourselves back into the books. This recurring cycle of physical and cerebral learning primed us for a lifelong exploration of new experiences and academic study that can be perpetuated at the Chautauqua Institution, a sophisticated camp-meets-school in the Southwest corner of New York State, where you are never too old to escape life’s routines to recharge your mind, body and soul.
Dedicated to the “exploration of the best in human values,” the Chautauqua Institution redefines the “learning vacation” and promises to stimulate both the left and right sides of your brain. Perhaps you want to learn the basics of Photoshop or 3D animation. Maybe you’re eager to improve your investment strategy. It could be that you just want to get your hands dirty at a potter’s wheel. Whatever the case may be, the Chautauqua Institution has something for everyone — and then some.
Each Summer, more than 100,000 people flock to Chautauqua to attend lectures and classes given by renowned figures from every sector, to catch opera, theater and dance performances, and to enjoy physical relaxation by sailing or through meditation. The 2013 season — which runs from June 22 to August 25 — builds upon last season’s spectacular line-up. “Visitors return year after year because Chautauqua makes them feel refreshed and enlightened,” says Vanessa Weinert, the Institution’s marketing manager. “It is a place like no other. [One] of engagement, inspiration and self-discovery.”
Echoing that sentiment is Mary Holzheimer, a Chautauqua Institution regular who has been visiting with her husband for 17 consecutive summers. They return year after year because it is a “magical, mystical place with something for everyone and it’s beyond anything you can imagine.”
After diving into the Special Studies Catalog, we can see what Ms. Weinert and Ms. Holzheimer mean. We’ve bookmarked classes of particular interest that we’re eager to attend. See below for our five top picks and why we’d sign up for each.
- Chuck Close: Portraits in Pixels — As longtime admirers of Chuck Close, we’d take any opportunity to breathe the same air as this artist, and this course allows us to learn from the master by exploring his technique and then putting paintbrush to canvas to create our own faux Close.
- Chocoholics Anonymous — We admit it, we’re addicted to chocolate. It’s no surprise then that this class — complete with cacao samplings from around the world — caught our attention.
- Comedy Improv — Though we’re not aspiring to be the next face of SNL, the underlying lessons from this class are good for all of us: Loosen up, think on your feet and don’t be afraid to make a fool out of yourself every now and again.
- Sharpening Your Knife Skills — We’ve always wanted to chop like an iron chef. Now, we can wow guests at our next dinner party (and with sleek skills to match our equally elegant Kentile Cutting Board).
- Getting a Handle on Gluten Free Baking — Because NYSOM’s Editor in Chief shouldn’t have to deprive her tastebuds for the sake of her gluten allergy.
Have we convinced you? Before booking your own visit to Chautauqua, here are a few things to note:
Course Registration: It’s not too late to sign up for Chautauqua’s Special Studies, though classes are popular enough that you might be put on the waitlist. You can register online up to one week prior to a course’s start date, after which point you will have to order tickets over the phone (716-357-6250) or in person at the Main Gate Welcome Center. Browse the course catalog to see what’s available.
Gate Passes: To enter the Chautauqua Institution grounds, all visitors ages 13 to 90 must purchase a Gate Pass. If you are signed up for a Special Studies Course (like the Chuck Close class), bring a receipt of your registration for a complimentary gate pass. Otherwise, prices range from $13 to $73 per day, depending on the duration of your stay. You can purchase your pass online ahead of time or in person on the day of your visit. The pass grants access to all lectures, religious services, amphitheater entertainment and performances by the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra. Additional tickets are required for the Opera and Theater Company performances and Special Courses. See the full schedule of events and price list for more information. Ms. Holzheimer let us in on the inside scoop about crowding and free grounds access: The Institution does a great job of controlling crowds, mentioning that because everything is spread out, you never feel claustrophobic; plus, access to the grounds is free every Sunday, providing the perfect opportunity for first timers to explore and experience the atmosphere before booking a longer stay.
Accommodations: If you’re travelling from out of town, there are plenty of places to stay near the Institution, including private homes, apartments, inns and hotels. Most rent weekly, from Saturday to Saturday, but nightly options are available as well. Visit Chautauqua’s Online Accommodations Directory to request a reservation based on your particular needs. NYSOM Tip: Ms. Weinert told us that accommodations for Week Four (July 14 – 20) and Week Seven (August 4 – 10) are tight, so if you plan to visit during either of those weeks, you better act fast!
Dining: There are several restaurants and cafes (even a Farmers Market) on the Institution’s grounds, plus a complimentary shuttle to a handful of restaurants outside the Main Gates. Reservations are appreciated at many of the restaurants, including the Athenaeum, one of Chautauqua’s “crown jewels” that serves American fare for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Ms. Holzheimer recommends lunch on the Athenaeum’s verandah, which overlooks Chautauqua Lake and provides the perfect break to your day. A farmers’ market near the Main Gates is open from Monday through Saturday and sells fresh local so you can create your own picnic. Our pick for an off-site eatery is Le Fleur, a farm-to-table restaurant offering the finest French cuisine. For a complete list of restaurants and cafes, click HERE.
No matter how you choose to arrive, you’ll need a car to get to Chautauqua. The closest airport to Chautauqua Institution is the Chautauqua County Airport in Jamestown, NY, 15 miles south of the Institution and served by US Airways Express commuter jet from Pittsburgh, PA. The Erie International airport is 40 miles southwest in Pennsylvania, while the Buffalo Niagara International airport is 70 miles northeast.
- If driving from Buffalo, take I-90W to NY-394 via exit 60 and turn left onto NY-394/North Portage Street. The drive is an estimated 90 minutes.
- If driving from Albany, take I-90W to NY-394 via exit 60 and turn left onto NY-394/North Portage Street. The drive is considerably longer than that from Buffalo, covering more than 350 miles at an estimated 5.5 hours.
- If driving from NYC, prepare to be in the car for close to 7 hours. Take the Holland Tunnel to I-280W in New Jersey. Continue to I-80W via Pennsylvania to I-81. Cross back into New York State via NY-17W, continue to I-86W then NY-394 via exit 7 to Panama/Chautauqua Institution.
Ample parking is available across the street from the Institution. Rates start at $8 per day.
View Chautauqua Institution: Driving Directions in a larger map
For more information on the Chautauqua Institution, visit their website HERE.
[Photos provided by the Chautauqua Institution]